The International Monetary Fund, in its world economic report released on October 14th 2020, noted that India’s GDP growth for the financial year (FY) 2020-21 will contract to -10.2%. This figure is the worst among its Asian rivals. More humiliating part of this report for India is that Bangladesh, its much-reviled neighbour, will surpass India’s per capita income.
In a similar vein, India ranks 94 in the global hunger index 2020, among a list of 107 nations, below every other South Asian country, except Afghanistan. Even India’s population growth, over a period between 2004 to 2016 (15-year period), was faster (around 21%) than Bangladesh’s (just under 18%).
To put it in Home Minister Amit Shah’s derogatory terminology even the so-called “termites” (Bangladeshis) have surpassed India in many areas of human development index. Those who counted on India to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030 and third-largest by 2050 are confronted with the reality of an India going downhill day by day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a $5-trillion economy by 2024. But now that would be nothing but a pipe dream if the country goes on as today under Modi. Hence, all should ask the question: why such a decline? More precisely, the question should be, under which government and whose leadership is this happening and why?
When Modi became the prime minister in 2014 there was great hope among Indians within India, Indian diaspora all over the world and even among the countries of the world. Despite his anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat, Indians and the world were prepared to give him a chance in 2014. Even after his many unforgivable blunders during his first term as prime minister Indians elected his party again in 2019 with an even bigger majority.
His populist rhetoric and selling of dreams captivated people’s imagination and “a great India” became an essential commodity of modern, urban middle-class existence. However, in the seventh year of his rule, the onlookers can find a leader who, despite his appeal and corporate support, is merely an election-winning machine, by means fair and foul, and nothing more.
As far as his ability to take India forward (economically, socially or culturally) is concerned his two consecutive terms in power are turning out to be a master class in politics of deception, disruption and destruction that has thrown India deeper and deeper into a social, economic and cultural chasm.
How Modi deceived the Indians and the world?
During his election rallies before 2014 general elections, Modi was in the forefront criticising the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Dr Manmohan Singh of the Congress party. Modi’s criticisms, mostly aired through the social media platform Twitter (Modi does not face the press directly and never held any press conference) were related to areas of China’s intrusions in the border, Pakistan’s proxy war, price rise, rapes against women and especially about the falling rupee value and the GDP.
Despite the 2008 global financial crash, following the US Subprime Crisis, the Congress party-led UPA government had managed to somehow shield India from its devastating effects. Due to such efforts, when the world itself was going through a major economic slowdown, India still maintained a GDP growth at 6.6% (revised estimate under Modi) in FY 2013-2014.
But Modi promised the voters a double-digit GDP growth. However, despite changing the base year and method of calculating GDP, the maximum that the Modi government achieved was 8.26% in FY 2016 and declining steeply ever since. This growth has been plummeting, and in FY 2019-20 it dropped to 4.2%; this wasn’t a repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that the COVID 19 crisis is “An Act of God”, invoking the force majeure clause to deny payments to the states of their due Goods and Services Tax (GST) compensation, India’s GDP was falling consistently. The Indian economic situation was dire even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides the above, to mesmerise the youth, Modi promised 20m jobs annually, which would mean 100m jobs by the end of his first term (2019) and a total of 200m jobs–-nearly equivalent to the total votes his party got in the 2019 Lok Sabha election––during his ten years rule. But the reality is anything but that. Even as Modi was fighting his re-election in 2019 the labour ministry released unemployment figures which turned out to be 45 years high and that figure has grown manifolds due to the lockdown and bad economic management.
Modi’s major election chorus during 2014 elections was about the UPA government’s corruption and the black money menace. Hence, he pledged to jail all the UPA regime culprits and bring back the black money stashed in Swiss Banks by Indians, which would translate to a Rs 1.5m per head if divided among the people. This turned out to be mere electoral rhetoric. Instead, what India witnessed was many bank frauds, especially by those personally associated with Modi or his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and an enormous amount of loan defaults.
None of the culprits such as Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, etc, who fled India by duping banks, were brought to justice and the money they stole was never recovered in any manner. All those promises turned out to be a fantastic deception.
Modi had also promised to double the income of farmers. But he could not even support the farmers who continued to commit suicide during his rule due to debt and poor prices for their produce.
Despite his unstated intentions and objectives, Modi’s election rhetoric was suffused with “Acche Din” (better days) for all Indians (Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas). But, as days, months and years went by, his election rhetoric is turning out to be a great deception. Instead of offering anything substantial to Indians to be proud of, he has merely managed to rename or continue the projects started by his predecessor Dr Singh’s government, which he had lampooned during elections and after. His days as Indian prime minister, on the contrary, were nothing but a disruption of the socio-economic and cultural life of the nation.
How he disrupted India’s progress?
If one takes a step back and critically reflects on the past six years of Modi what comes uppermost to mind is the amount of disruption that Modi rule has caused the nation. It began with the capricious decision of November 8, 2016, of demonetising the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, then in circulation, amounting to over 85% of the nation’s currency.
This decision plunged the entire nation into a shock and pushed most of the populous onto the streets where they had to queue for hours to withdraw their own money from the banks. An artificial scarcity of money was created plunging the economy to lose about 2% of the GDP growth, decimating small and medium scale businesses and destroying about five million jobs.
Pitted as a masterstroke to finish off black money and terrorism funding the exercise failed to achieve neither of the objectives. Instead, it set in motion Indian economy’s downward spiral which has reached to a -23.9 (minus 23.9) year on year in the first quarter of FY 2020-21. Having the relevant data at hand now one could say that demonetisation was the biggest blunder and a pointless disruption which was unnecessary because the Indian economy was on a sound footing until Modi inflicted this wound on the economy.
To add fuel to fire, the Modi government imposed the GST regime. It was named “one nation one tax” and was hailed as a masterstroke to unite the nation and curb black money in trading. However, it was done so amateurishly and such a complicated and multi-tiered way that for the unprepared and untrained small and medium scale businesses it became a nightmare to deal with.
Today, the dream of shoring up tax centrally and redistributing to the states has come to such a pass that month after month GST revenue has been falling. In reality, the status of tax collection has become so dire that the Central government has failed to pay the share of the state governments damaging severely the federal structure of the country.
All through his life, Modi’s politics had been projecting the Muslims as the bogeyman. His promise to his Hindu vote bank has been to put Muslims in their place which would mean to render them, second class citizens, under Hindu supremacy. To achieve this objective Modi promised to end the “pink revolution”.
Pink revolution is a metaphor for beef trade and exports from India. India is the world’s second-largest beef exporter. Modi, through his deceptive rhetoric, managed to associate Muslims with beef consumption and trade. But the truth is beef export increased during Modi’s rule and four out of the six largest beef exporters in India are Hindus, including some lawmakers belonging to Modi’s ruling party, the BJP. Beef-related laws and controversy were one of the finest deceptions and hypocrisies of Modi.
This was a strategy to shoot two birds with a single arrow: target Muslims through “food fascism” and destroy their livelihood where many poor Muslims work in meat and animal trade. With the Muslims, even the Dalits who worked in animal and hide trade became targets for the Hindutva vigilantes. This law, under the pretext of “Gau Raksha” (cow protection), also gave open licence for Hindutva militant groups to target and lynch Muslims who moved cattle or consumed beef.
This ideological subterfuge not merely destroyed India’s internal meat industry but turned out to be a huge disruption that 80% of meat-eating India had to deal with. In India today, the fear of being branded a beef eater is greater than that of a terror attack. Restaurant trade, abattoirs and local meat traders are easy prey to the Hindutva thugs throughout the country today.
Other issues that dominated the last six years relating to the targeting of intellectuals, teachers, artists, students and activists who oppose the Hindutva ideology. Students from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University like Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid were arrested under the colonial-era sedition law. Khalid is now booked under false charges of inciting a riot that the BJP masterminded.
Under Modi, Hindutva vigilante groups have grown so fearless that they even killed several intellectuals and dissenters such as Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Gauri Lankesh, etc. Then came the Bhima-Koregaon issue and the hounding of social activists. All those who were arrested under sedition law and the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in 2018 are still under arrest without bail. Every month a new name is added to the list to gag dissenting voices. All such attacks on dissenting voices were done by labelling them as “urban Naxals”.
A massive disruption and sundering of national social fabric emerged by way of a sinister Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, (CAA 2019), which was enacted on 11th December 2019. This law sent jitters into the already targeted Muslim community who began to protest this purportedly “unconstitutional” law. Protests spread all over the nation when even non-Muslims found the law dangerous for their claims of citizenship.
For some cheap politics and to target the Muslims in a further dangerous manner, the nation was once again plunged into disarray. For months, national life and its economy were disrupted. Then followed the Delhi Assembly elections and the subsequent anti-Muslim pogrom with an utterly discriminatory police behaviour which, instead of arresting the real culprits (the BJP-RSS cadre), began to arrest Muslims and social activists who were found to take part in anti-CAA 2019 protests.
The latest disruption to plunge India to the bottom of the pile in economic and social indicators was the COVID-19 lockdown. Modi likes to act like a dictator. Nothing makes him feel macho as much as an autocratic decision, which he would not go waste. Like demonetisation, he showed his dictatorial streak once again when he got a pretext to disrupt the nation the maximum way possible.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in India, even before people knew what it was, he imposed a draconian lockdown, giving a mere four-hour window for everything to shut down. The plight of the poor, and especially of the migrant labour spread across Indian cities, following this abrupt lockdown was something no Indian would forget for life. Thousands of hapless migrant workers were left to fend for themselves. Lacking any kind of transport most of them set out on foot to reach their villages which are hundreds of miles away. Many died on the way, many were helped by ordinary citizens with food and water. But the Modi government did very little to help them.
This decision of Modi was more a show of power than a leader’s considered approach to handle a crisis. The stupid part of this whole exercise was that the migrant labourers took the virus to the nooks and corners of the nation. Worse still, when the virus was still spreading Modi ended the lockdown and allowed India to be the second-most affected nation with over 116,616 already dead. If there were any small and medium scale businesses that were still breathing despite demonetisation and GST shock, this draconian lockdown hammered the final nail into their coffin.
How he is destroying India: socially, economically, and culturally?
Modi’s sinister master stroke anti-Muslim political discourse and policies have been the most serious destruction he wrought on Indian social fabric. India has nearly 200m Muslims– the second-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. Any sensible leader would have been able to see the social, economic and cultural importance of such a large and diverse minority group within our democracy.
A happy, contented and democratically evolved Muslim population that is liberal and multicultural in outlook would be a great asset to show to the world. Indian Muslims are a national asset because they participate in the national politics and culture like all others, peacefully practice their religion when extremism is spreading in other parts of the world, and they are a very hardworking and entrepreneurially oriented people in India.
India could be a great ideal for the entire world to show how a huge Muslim population can become so integrated within a democratic state. Given the size of the Muslim population and Muslim nations in the world, Indian Muslims would be our greatest ambassadors to the world from where one could expect great support and investments. But Modi’s ideological meanness has distanced many investors from investing in India.
According to Kaushik Basu, former World Bank economist, many studies show that trust between communities is essential for economic growth and only then investors have trust and confidence in a nation’s economy. People need to feel involved and inclusive to have confidence in the economy. Modi has damaged this critically important aspect of Indian society.
With discriminatory laws, the nation is turned into an anti-minority, majoritarian state. Viewing these and other such developments The Freedom in the World 2020 report has ranked India at the 83rd position, along with Timor-Leste and Senegal. “This is near the bottom of the pile among the countries categorised as “Free”, with only Tunisia receiving a lower score. India’s score fell by four points to 71, the worst decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies this year.”
The report specifically cites the “annulment of autonomy and the subsequent shutdown of Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens and the CAA 2019, as well as the crackdown on mass protests” as the main signs of declining freedom. Noting the situation further the report says:
“These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system. While India continues to earn a Free rating and held successful elections last spring, the BJP has distanced itself from the country’s founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights, without which democracy cannot long survive.”
The United States was treating India as a democratic counterweight to China and hence a strategic partner in the region. However, under Modi’s Hindutva rule that view is changing, and India is attracting criticism like that are levied against China.
After six years of Modi, everyone has identified Modi as someone for whom furthering his Hindutva supremacist ideology is more important than the perils that face India. He, instead, tries to present himself as an undetached person which, in reality, appears to be insensitive and callous to the concerns of the poor, the youth, the farmers, the small and medium businesses, the working people and women.
His total lack of compassion towards people who died waiting on queues to withdraw their own money from the banks during demonetisation, farmers who suffer under the burden of debt, youth who have to live without hope of employment, and small businesses that went under due to the triple shock of demonetisation, GST and COVID-19 lockdown leaves no one any hope in his ability to solve India’s problems.
Even women who are raped, or Muslims who are lynched or the migrant labourers who suffered the effects of his Tughluki lockdown mess, received no words of comfort or compassion from him. Instead what India has been witnessing is the continued sale or divestment of state-owned enterprises, especially to his corporate supporters such as Ambanis and Adanis.
To put things in context when Indians became poorer and poorer over the last six or so years, Modi’s corporate friends’ wealth multiplied manifold. Mukesh Ambani’s wealth increased by 73%, making him the sixth richest man in the world and Gautam Adani’s wealth increased by 48%. In the meanwhile, state-owned enterprises are either prevented from growing or simply allowed to go bankrupt so that they don’t pose a threat to Modi’s corporate donors.
Modi’s destructive streak is not restricted to the social and economic fabric of the nation. Given his authoritarian and narcissistic character trait, his destructiveness leaves no area untouched. Almost every constitutional and non-constitutional body including the press is either co-opted, compromised or subdued to serve the whims and fancies of this right-wing authoritarian populist leader.
The Election Commission is compromised; the elected dissenting or opposition politicians are either blackmailed or victimised using investigative agencies. In many provinces, the opposition-led governments were dethroned using corrupt means, which means by literally purchasing lawmakers to form illegitimate governments of the BJP.
Dissenting politicians and activists, including students, are thrown into jails under laws that deny them bail for months and years. There are far too many examples of how Modi has been trampling on the constitutional values.
Culturally speaking, ever since Modi came to power cultural freedom has been hostage to Hindutva ideological onslaught and physical threat to persons and institutions. This refers to films, books, social media posts and even newspapers and television channels. Media persons are thrown into jails or forced to leave jobs, filmmakers and actors have been physically attacked, and television channels were deprived of government advertisements if they followed an independent or secular line in their work.
So, if the last six years of Modi rule mean anything for India, it is a well-designed rhetorical deception to come to power and after coming to power it is a relentless ideological pounding on the nation’s secular and democratic ethos. Modi years have been nothing but a continuous period of disruption and destruction of the socio-economic and cultural fabric of the nation.
Dr Samuel Sequeira is a Research Associate at Cardiff University, UK. A native of Karnataka, he had his MA at Mysore University (Karnataka) and had worked as an Editor of Konkani and Kannada newspapers. He has his PhD from Cardiff University where he researched on “South Asian Migrant Community living in Wales”. His current research is about the topic “Trauma of Civil War: Sri Lankan Tamil Experience”.